Peter Cochrane and chief sustainability officer at BT, Niall Dunne, cast their gaze forward to future tech trends such as big data and autonomous vehicles and how they will transform our jobs.


“So what do you do?” is probably the most common line uttered in bars and cocktail parties the world over. Western society is obsessed with work, and more recently, what it will look like in the future. Scientists predict machines will take over 50% of our jobs in the next 30 years but maybe in the end, automation will make us happier?  While we can’t predict the future, we can make predictions about how tech trends will potentially transform the way we work.

Peter Cochrane news

Robots and artificial intelligence.

Machines will become more intelligent than humans within our lifetime and will change the world of work forever, says Niall Dunne, chief sustainability officer for BT. “Humans evolve slowly but a machine’s development is rapid,” he adds. “The power is scary, but if utilised properly it will improve our lives, including what we think of as ‘work’.”

With robots working the land and serving in shops and restaurants potentially becoming a reality, a harsher one is the impact it will have on the manufacturing and retail sectors.

“The seven key stages in the supply chain will be replaced with robots,” says Dunne. “So from field to fork humans will not be involved. Within this generation humans won’t drive tractors, or any other vehicle for that matter.” The vision of a world run by machines is already a reality, according to professor Peter Cochrane, a futurologist who analyses future trends and does change forecasting and system design for government, companies and institutions.

“Robots already produce the vast majority of our goods. Most laptops, tablets or vehicles are already made by them,” says Cochrane.

Big data

Big data is the term used to describe very large, complex, rapidly-changing datasets. If analysed correctly it can be used to develop insights that lead to better decisions and strategic business moves. For a manufacturing plant or transport company predictive big data could generate savings of up to 12% on scheduled repairs, leading to a 30% reduction in maintenance costs and a 70% cut in downtime from equipment breakdowns.

“Humans don’t have the capability to crunch the data,” says Cochrane. “Jobs in the future will be for innovative people who manipulate the data given by machines. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are subjects used in 75% of the fastest-growing occupations.”

Dunne adds, “And cloud technologies mean even small organisations can access this crunch power, speeding the cycle of innovation.”

New energy and renewables

“In the future new energy tech will mean that individuals and businesses will be able to trade energy they have produced through solar, biomass or new forms of energy capture not yet invented,” says Dunne. This could level the playing field in an industry notoriously characterised by large corporate monopolies and “could create digital jobs in the sector, with people setting up co-op energy trading with mates or colleagues,” Dunne continues.

For Cochrane, the brightest future for jobs in the new energy business will be the developers of bio-tech and nano-tech, which he says will “define the next 100 years”. In the future it is predicted that cars will talk to other cars, traffic lights and even buildings in order to navigate without incident.

“Driving jobs will become obsolete,” says Dunne. “Vehicles will become fully automated and be able to drive at full speed because all human error will be eradicated. Buildings will tell cars where to park, increasing revenue for parking services.”

Cochrane goes a step further, predicting flying cars.“In the far east they are developing auto quadcopters, flying vehicles controlled by machines.” He also predicts that autonomous transport could change the business landscape of the UK.

“The future UK economy will develop outside of London as better telecommunications and automated transport means there will be less reliance on economic clustering in the capital.”


Bio-tech, wearables and wellbeing

With microchips currently in development that could make wearable devices like smartwatches, gesture rather than voice controlled, they could soon be used to send emails and documents while on the move. Flexible screens, which are already being developed, could eliminate the need to carry paper copies, laptops or tablets. Moreover, wearable technology merged with bio-tech could help monitor your health, keeping you working longer.

“Bio-tech can help us improve workplace wellbeing,” says Dunne. “ICT could alert us to our stress triggers, or even tell us when we needed a fruit or protein drink, for example, to maintain our energy levels. Biotech could even tell us what types of work we were physically and mentally suited to, improving our work/life balance and perhaps even prolonging our lives.”

So, while for some of us flying cars and robot waiters are the stuff of science-fiction movies, these experts predict the reality is much closer.